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Russian defense minister’s strategic Latin American voyage

February 18, 2015, 14:10 UTC+3 Litovkin Viktor
© Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry press service/TASS

MOSCOW, February 18. /TASS/. Russia’s Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu, has ended a tour of Latin America, which in less than one week took him to three countries - Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Everywhere he enjoyed special military honors and was welcomed at the highest state level. In Caracas, he was received by President Nicolas Maduro, in Managua, by the country’s leader Daniel Ortega and in Havana, by the head of state Raul Castro. He was awarded Venezuela’s order National Security Merit and Nicaragua’s Grand Cross.

Shoigu’s meetings with the national leaders of the three Latin American countries did not look like pure protocol events at all. Discussions were friendly, fundamental and specific and encompassed a wide range of aspects of world politics. In part, they discussed the events in Ukraine. Maduro, Ortega and Castro fully supported Russia’s stance regarding the settlement of the situation in the east. Also, they touched upon the problems of the Caribbean, in particular, bilateral relations in politics, and military and military-technical spheres.

Russia has been and still is the largest provider of weapons and military hardware for the countries Shoigu has just been to. To Venezuela alone Moscow provided at least $11 billion worth of armaments over the past few years. Alongside India, China and Algeria it has become the largest buyer of Russian aircraft, tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces and air defence systems. The armies of Nicaragua and Cuba are entirely equipped with Russian hardware. True, their equipment is not as new as that at Caracas’s disposal. The local industries have managed to somehow upgrade a great share of that equipment, but all these weapons need either urgent replacement and supplies of spare parts and components, or fundamental upgrade, which might prove the most sensible solution of all. The Russian Defence Ministry’s delegation included the chief of the military-technical cooperation service, Alexander Fomin, whose subordinates, and also specialists from the Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport, apparently have relevant plans and arrangements.

Infographics Global Arms Market Global Arms Market
Global Arms Market. Infographics ITAR-TASS

Last year Nicaragua created, with Russia’s assistance, a center named after Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov for training specialists for the country’s ground forces. Near Managua Moscow helped build an industrial facility for disposing of expired ammunition. The plant is already operational. During the just-ended visit Shoigu attended the inauguration of a topographical centre. The equipment was provided and assembled by Russian specialists. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega received a proposal for sending Nicaraguan teenagers for training at Russia’s army and naval cadet schools. Some Nicaraguans are already being trained at Russian officers’ schools and academies, so why not starting this kind of instruction from a younger age? In that case the trainees would first become fluent in the Russian language and receive elementary military education to eventually take a course of training at military institutions of higher learning and be able to become fully qualified commanders for the Nicaraguan army. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said such proposals had been made not only in Managua, but also in Caracas and Havana.

Shoigu’s overseas voyage had a pretty clear strategic message: Russia’s geopolitical rival must remember that Moscow has its own interests in that part of the world, just recently considered as the latter’s backyard, and possesses the ability to demonstrate and protect these interests.

Naturally, the United States is unlikely to be very happy about that, but Moscow, and possibly, Caracas, Managua and Caracas have long stopped paying much attention to comments that may follow from the US Department of State.

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